by Charlene Burgi
The caps and gowns of graduation are behind us. Summer vacation has officially begun. Trips are planned and reservations are made for a long and well-deserved rest from the hubbub of routine schedules.
Alas, while preparing for vacation, we tend to put aside the fact that the evapotranspiration rate is at its highest peak in June and July, which means plants require more irrigation now than any other time of year. The days are longer and plants are at their peak performance—either flowering or fruiting. Vegetable gardens are rapidly nearing the time to begin harvesting.
The question is what to do about this conundrum of vacation plans during the garden’s critical time of need! Perhaps a few suggestions will alleviate the angst of keeping the garden alive for a week or two while you have some fun in the sun elsewhere.
- Get your plants in optimal health before leaving. If the plants are well-fed, insect-free, and well-hydrated, they will stand a much better chance of surviving while you are gone.
Before leaving, remove all hanging containers. The exposure to wind and circulating air, plus heat from the sun, will dry out these plants in short order. Cluster the containers in a shady area of the garden. Place the containers that have drainage holes in trays filled with water. The soil will wick up the moisture from the tray to the root system of the plant. If you do not have drainage holes, place a large vessel of water near the cluster of container plants and insert a cotton rope or twine into the water so one end of the rope rests at the bottom. Drape the excess rope over the top of the soil in each planted container, or run individual ropes from the water to each plant. Again, the rope will wick up the water and provide moisture to each planted container. (Note: Lightly cover the water vessel to slow evaporation.)
- Plants in the ground may require a bit more creativity if you do not have an automatic irrigation system. There are hose timers that attach to a hose bib and are available at your local hardware or irrigation store that will automatically turn on and off at a designated day and time that you set. Run a hose to the area where plants are in need of irrigation and attach a soaker hose to the open end of the hose. Wind the soaker through the garden to each plant until all plants are adequately covered.
Fill one-gallon empty milk containers with water and replace the cap. Insert a very tiny pin hole into the bottom of the container and place two or three like-containers around trees. (Experiment before leaving to see how long the water lasts.) Depending on the size of the pin prick, you might need to add another pin hole at the top of the container.
- If interested, you can add polymers to your existing soil (polymers are found at your local nursery) .The polymers will retain water and release moisture as the soil dries out. Read directions carefully before using. This is a case of, “if a little is good, a lot can be disastrous.”
- Lawns. Let them go! While turf grass is one of the highest consumers of water, lawns are also extremely forgiving. If your lawn is dependent on a manual sprinkler, you can either employ a hose timer, or let the lawn go into dormancy without water. After returning from vacation, resume your watering schedule and the lawn will green up in a short period of time.
- Mulch, mulch, mulch! Three inches of mulch in and around your plants will reduce evaporation and retain the moisture you are providing.
- Lastly, ask a neighbor to check in weekly. If milk jugs or water containers require refilling before your return, it wouldn’t take long to assist with this chore.
The topic of this blog is a cagey way for me to let you know I am leaving for Italy for two weeks’ vacation. Many of you know all of my grandparents came from northern Italy many, many years ago. My son, daughter, her husband, and I have family there to meet. I promise my return will fill these blogs with pictures and new-found knowledge of gardening in the “old country.” Meanwhile, enjoy the blog written by some of my former coworkers at the district who graciously offered to enlighten you each week that I am gone.
Until then, ciao!